Each year, the already well established ski guide, ‘Where to Ski and Snowboard’ and co-authored by Chris Gill and Dave Watts hold their annual launch party at the Liberal Club in Westminster usually during the first week of September marking what is referred to as the beginning of the ‘Silly Ski Season’ and thus followed by a series of ski lunches, launches and parties! This event though, is always well attended by the great and the good from the world of skiing and this year’s party was no exception, and full of familiar faces. This is always a good sign to kick-start the silly season although it felt a bit strange having to think about the forthcoming winter season when London was and still is experiencing unseasonably warm Autumn! And this all prior to the Daily Telegraph’s Ski Show at the end of October.  

This year’s launch party, sponsored jointly by two well-known ski resorts, Kitzbuhel in Austria and Italy’s Alta Badia, was a jolly affair. Ironically, the evening’s highlight (after various speeches by resort representatives), it was former Olympic skier Konrad Bartelski turn to pick out a couple of business cards from a large glass bowl which we had been asked to leave on arrival. The first card to be pulled out was that of Frazer Wilkins’s who runs the Snow-Wise website and I was particularly thrilled he’d won the holiday to Kitzbuhel as both his young sons are keen skiers as well as tennis players. It was while congratulating Fraser that someone gentle tapped me on the shoulder to inform me my name had been the next to be called and understandably I was all but speechless to find I had won the second prize, a ski holiday for four guest to Alta Badia. You have to understand I NEVER win anything and why I so surprised. So here I am with a free ski holiday to Alta Badia for four friends! The only drawback is flights aren’t included but that’s not an insurmountable problem!

A couple of days later it was Utah’s Park City’s turn and this year’s party was held in the heart of Soho in the premises known as the Marquis Club in 70’s where non-stop live music was played by bands some who became household names. Now its simply known as ‘100 Wardour Street’, a large elegant bar and restaurant. This party though was a lot smaller compared to the launch of ‘Where to ski and snowboard’, but just as much fun. The other attraction of these functions is the ‘goody bags’ presented to us on leaving and it’s of little surprise at the amount of  ‘stuff’ collected from ‘goody bags although most usually contain a few useful gifts or two. In Park City’s bag was a useful battery free spotlight torch that only needs to be re-charged from a USB port. Following Park City’s party and a couple of days later was ABTOF’s annual sit down lunch at the Tara Hotel in Kensington. The format of the lunch is that everyone connected to the travel trade change tables after each course while journalists stay put. The advantages of this format is that you have a far better chance of meeting and chatting to a lot more people connected to the travel trade than you would normally! 

Well that was the week that was – more to follow  – all to be recorded in the next blogs!

 

 


 

These days it is not often a mouth-watering invite plops on the doormat. This one was to attend a high goal polo match at Guards Polo Club sponsored by Land Rover taking place at the end of August which I was delighted to accept. After spending a couple of wonderful weeks in Sandbanks I raced back to a deserted London on Saturday of the August Bank holiday weekend for Sunday’s polo match. A cloudless blue sky greeted me on the I drove to Guards Polo club but fortunately I had chosen a light summer dress to wear with colourful wedge shoes, (for treading in divots between chukkas). It was driving through the Great Windsor Park and seeing deer meandering around the park that it occurred to me how beautiful the countryside looked in late summer, and could be forgiven for taking a short detour to lap it up before arriving at Guards Polo Club.  Apart from the park’s distractions I still managed to get there in time for the pre-lunch champagne reception held on the lawns outside Guards Polo club. Ladies were mostly in dressed in delightful Ascot type outfits and men in summer suits, it looked all very Ascot but without the hats. I soon spied my hosts  Andrew and Bee Robb chatting to other guests and was soon handed a large glass of chilled champagne. An hour we were seated at Land Rover’s large, long table for twenty odd guests full of fascinating people, my end included 26-year-old Max Charlton who I chatted to about polo, he plays off a 7 handicap and is one of UK’s youngest high handicapped.  

During the delicious three course lunch Max and Rugby star Jason Robinson gave informal chats about their respective sports presided over by radio presenter Matt Baker. First Max told us about how he started in polo and how he reached his unprecedented high handicap of 7, something many experienced players would have loved to have achieved including perhaps even Prince Charles who once boasted a handicap of 4!. Jason followed with a fascinating talk on rugby including an insight on how England won the 2003 World Cup when they played Australia in the finals, a team everyone deemed was impossible to beat, and a match mostly remembered by Johnny Wilkinson famous kick try that clinched the Cup although few actually remember the role Jason played in setting up the final try. I was duly impressed with the way Jason delivered his side of the story to a room full of club members and their guests, most of whom I feared, knew little about the game of rugby.

Following lunch, the fun started when the Land Rover Duke of Cornwall final was played between two highly competitive high goal teams, the Golden Falcons team with total handicap of 15 against Park Place with 16, the eventual winners. Both teams played outstanding quality polo and I enjoyed every minute watching it particularly the way players deftly hit balls with long sticks from both flanks. Between matches tea was served in the clubhouse and when I managed a few words with Jason and congratulated him on his talk, if anything he was a delight to talk to. Another match followed between the two losing teams of the Land Rover championships, Bridge House of Twyford with a total handicap of 16 against Shoreline also 16 handicap and another exciting match. I can’t remember what time I finally left but I do remember thinking as I drove back though Windsor Park, what a wonderful fun day, and all thanks to my hosts Andrew and Bee! 

 

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A pleasant two-hour train journey with Eurostar to the centre of Brussels is in my opinion the best way to travel to Belgium these days. There are a surprising number of superb golf courses in and around the capital and Flanders our destination, and surprisingly boasts over 50 varied and amazing courses all within a couple of hours drive of Brussels. This trip was arranged through EGTMA (European Golf and Travel Media Association) for 20 international golf journalists including Jo Meas, its founder and behind the trip’s success.

With golf clubs in tow I arrived at Brussels Midi and took a ten minute taxi ride to Martin’s Hotel (www.martinsbrussels eu) for our first overnight stay and once checked in met up with the rest of our group before piling into one of two Hertz sponsored People’s Carriers for a visit to the National Golf Club on the outskirts of Brussels where we were met by various dignities from Belgium’s golf and Travel industries. After walking a couple of holes of this recently opened 9 holes course, the back 9 are due to open at the end of the year, we returned to a buzzing club house for drinks and a delicious three course Belgium styled dinner in the club’s spacious dining room.    

Packed and checked out the next day we drove for about an hour and a half to the Damme Golf and Country Club arriving in time for our 11 am tee times. Although a mainly flat course it is full of unexpected hazards and challenges but a pleasant course to play.  After a mid-afternoon ‘light’ lunch we continued to the historic city of Ghent for our next overnight stay in the five-star Marriott hotel. My large comfortable room boasted an enormous king size bed, what bliss! After a quick shower we met up for an hour’s walking tour of this fascinating historic city with a delightfully eccentric but amusing guide. After the walking tour, we boarded an awaiting sightseeing boat for a romantic guided tour of the city’s canals and served prosecco and dry snacks during the trip! Back at the hotel we were immediately ushered into a private dining room for a delicious three course dinner.

The following day we made our way to the Cleydael Golf club where former top tennis player, Kim Clijsters’s first coach regularly plays. Recently she remembered him fondly in her speech given at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. As soon as we finished playing, we drove off to Mechelen where we checked into the Martin’s Patershof hotel, a former converted church and where rooms are architecturally designed to include many of the church’s features, and stained glass windows. Although exhausted, we fitted in another guided  tour but found Ghent far more interesting. 

From Mechelen on to the Millennium Golf Club where Belgium’s top professional, Tomas Pieters learnt to play and where his father, Jaak is the club’s president. We chatted briefly and he revealed he and his wife still accompany their increasingly successful son to many of the tournaments often renting large houses to accommodate the entire family. I enjoyed playing this mostly undulating course and tree-lined fairways, some doglegging to right or left. From here we drove on to the university town of Leuven, checked into Martin’s Klooster Hotel, a converted former monastery where we stayed for the next three days. My spacious room was in the modern annex and had an enormous bathroom with a jacuzzi and walk-in shower. The following day we made our way to the Spiegelven Golf Club for our fourth round of golf. The course is an 18 hole par 72 course, which I found interesting and challenging to play although the 15th and 18th water holes are particularly taxing.  

Finally on to Winge Golf and Country Club for our last round of golf in Flanders and where ironically and unexpectedly I produced the best results of the week! Throughout the week we were blessed with wonderful warm and sunny weather, perfect golf weather. We celebrated the last evening with a Gala dinner and were served a delicious three course meal, and another memorable occasion and finished up in the hotel’s bar until the early hours! A lovely way to end a wonderful week of golf, gourmet and fun in Flanders!

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Friends in Sandbanks had suggested staying for a couple of weeks from the end of July when they were in Canada to look after Jake their adorable Springer spaniel. I’ve known Jake since he was a small pup and was delighted to help out beside a couple of weeks by the sea was a perfect after a busy summer and taking Jake for long walks along sandy beaches very appealing.  

Sadly the weather wasn’t nearly as warm and sunny as it had been during the month of July and disappointingly, mostly overcast. My daily routine of taking Jake for walks along the beach barefooted, and paddling in the warmish sea was if anything very therapeutic. Twice during the first week I managed to escape to the Cowes Week Regatta after arranging for someone to look after Jake. This year ‘Lendy’ was Cowes new sponsor although it took a little while to understand what they actually represented but clearly they did a good job sponsoring the regatta.

Tuesday was perfect sailing weather and the day I decided to pop over to Cowes. Fortunately Leo, my friendly photographer had managed to get me the last free slot on the photographer’s press boat but only provided I kept out of everyone’s way. Watching the racing from the photographer’s press boat is always exciting as most of the time is spent speeding up and down the course watching the action at close quarters while boats round marker buoys sometimes so close to  boats you could almost hear the skipper’s instructions.  After a couple of hours on the water we returned to Cowes and I had to dash back to the Media Centre as arrangements had been made for me to interview Olympic gold medalist Hannah Mills who I found absolutely fascinating as her recounted her experiences Rio, and more recently when she was invited to the Royal Box at Wimbledon on what is regarded as ‘sporting Saturday’. She also revealed how a close up glimpse of Roger Federer descending the club’s ornate staircase before his Centre Court match, made her day!

Hannah was one of five nominees for the Elemis ‘Women in Sailing Awards, a party that was taking that evening only I was in two minds whether to go or not. My dilemma was catch the 6 o’clock ferry and be in good time to pick up Jake or stay on for the Elemis party. Well, after discovering James Norton of War and Peace fame and playing the sexy vicar in Grantchester, was also a guest, my mind was made up and ended meeting lots of interesting people and even managed a fun chat with James himself, but all good things have to come to an end and like Cinderella had to dash off to catch the 8.30 ferry back to Southampton but not before saying goodbye to James who gave me ig kiss on both cheeks, and then ran all the way the Red Ferry Hydrofoil with a huge grin on my face but at least I arrived in time to pick up Jake that evening!

The rest of the time spent in Sandbanks was a bit of a whirl, friends popped by and my sister came to stay a couple of nights. I even managed to fit in a game of tennis on the day I was due to drive back to London something I had been trying to organise all week. We ended up playing for about three hours in windy conditions which played havoc with my game but it was all worth while. In all I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent in Sandbanks in spite of the mostly inclement weather. 

 

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A day after the start of Wimbledon and I was asked by NBC to discuss a towel throwing incident which although I knew little about I agreed to do it. A car was duly dispatched to pick me up and soon I was discussing potential questions.The reason for this unexpected request was all due to a tweet from Jack Sock, an American player who after winning his first round match on an outside court had thrown a prized Wimbledon towels in the direction of a young fan sitting courtside only to watch the towel being snatched away by the outstretched hand of an older grey-haired gentleman in the row behind. It was Sock’s shock tweet that went viral and why NBC asked me to voice my opinions! While waiting for the cameraman to set up his camera outside Wimbledon’s main gates that I bumped into several friends and acquaintances and realised what I was missing and immediately text Lisa, a friend and founder of 10’sball.com to arrange a player’s guest pass something we had previously discussed during Queen’s.

Max Mirnyl cutting his birthday cake.

A couple of days later found me queuing in the player’s accreditation marquee picking up a guest badge that had been left courtesy of doubles specialist Max Mirnyi. It was a particularly hot, sultry day and also Max’s birthday which we later celebrated in style with a huge birthday cake organised by friends in the player’s restaurant!!  

After watching Donald Young on Court three whose mother is unusually his coach and who I chatted to during the Queen’s tournament. Max kindly arranged another guest badge for Friday, another hot day and this time I wandered over to Aorangi Park to watch Roger Federer practice and where one of the players showed me how to find unclaimed or lost balls behind hedges! Later I met up with Clare, an old friend and Virginia Wade in the members for a glass of champagne – how social!.

Tuesday of the second week it rained incessantly and the day the Lawn Tennis Writers’ Association old their annual AGM which, as a committee member I always attend. This year’s meeting was particularly important as several significant issues concerning the newly revised LTWA constitution were raised and needed voting in. After the meeting the only place to watch tennis was from Centre Court under its retractable roof where Penny, my niece and her daughter Flic were as I had given them two centre court tickets and could hardly believe their luck that they were able to watch first class tennis up until late evening while others waited patiently for the rain to stop. Roll on 2019 when Court One’s retractable roof should be ready!

Afterwards around 8 we all met up for a quick drink in the media centre with Martina, an old family friend and her daughter Cecile before finally leaving half an hour later with the rain still pouring down but at least I was able to give Penny and Flic a lift to where their car was parked.

Marin Cilic being interviewed.

Thursday is traditionally Wimbledon’s Media party which this year was fun apart from a spat with the Daily Telegraph’s tennis correspondent Simon Briggs concerning tickets for the Championships Dinner.The next day though, I was back at Wimbledon for the Member’s annual cocktail party as a guest of Virginia Wade!

Each year the member’s cocktail party starts promptly at 7.30 and finishes at 9.30 with the National Anthem – how British can you get! As always Lanson champagne flowed and the food was plentiful and delicious. My final visit to the Club was on finals day for our traditional meeting in the Club’s private committee room with the AELTC’s media committee for the traditional sweepstake where we are asked to guess the exact number of visitors attending the Championships (including Sunday’s attendance) over a glass or two of Champagne with everyone contributing £5 toward the charity of my choosing..

Roger Federer signing autographs.

The actual finals this year were if anything disappointing, the Ladies final between Venus Williams and Spain’s delightful Garbine Murguruza was a one-sided affair with Murguruza winning 7/5 6/0. Fortunately the men’s final was slightly more exciting but an injured Marin Cilic allowed Roger Federer to win in three routine sets, his 8th historic Wimbledon title,  

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Hot and sunny is the best way  to describe this year’s weather at the Aegon sponsored Queen’s Club tournament and after a nine-year innings Aegon’s final year of sponsorship. However, after a two-year period as a 500 level tournament there were a lot of disappointed ticket holders when a number of last-minute withdrawals including crowd favourite Juan Martin de Potro who pulled out injured following an early exit at the French Open and Gale Monfils, another crowd pleaser.  Rafa Nadal’s long-awaited re-appearance after a four-year hiatus also ended in disappointment when he withdrew from the tournament after his historic ‘La decima’ French Open title citing exhaustion after deciding his weary body wouldn’t hold to another tournament so soon after his French Open victory.   

On the warm, sunny opening day matches commenced with a clash between two Frenchmen, Jo Wilfred Tsonga and Adrian Marrino with an easy win for Tsongo but this was followed by a second round defeat for the Frenchman to unseeded Giles Muller from Luxemburg who as it later turned out, was the unexpected winner of a marathon match against Rafa Nadal in the Wimbledon’s round of 16 two weeks! But back to Queen’s – with Murray as top seed a lot of pressure was placed on his shoulders to defend his title but the world’s number one unexpectedly lost to unseeded Aussi Jordan Thompson in the first round. As it turned out that wasn’t all of Murray’s woes who later revealed a hip problem needed sorting out before the start of Wimbledon. Disappointing outcome for tickets holders who doubtless had expected to see  a lot more of Murray but then the entire tournament was full of unpredictable surprises and disappointments.

 

Feliano Lopez is added to the list of winners.

The semi finals match between Spain’s unseeded Felicano Lopez and seventh seed Thomas Berdych was another surprise win for Lopez who later went on to defeat 6th seed Grigor Dimitrov to reach the finals against fourth seed Marin Cilic a 2012 winner and favourite to win but on an overcast, damp finals day it was the in-form 35-year-old Lopez who went on the win his first Queen’s tournament, a title he had always wanted to win!   

 

Me having a drink with friends.

There is a lot to be said about Queen’s as a venue for a 500 event. Besides being a private tennis club, members are allowed in free and mostly a knowledgable crowd but the atmosphere in many ways reminds me of a sort of mini Ascot with a daily parade of pretty dresses and fashionable outfits, During the tournament the obvious most sought-after place to be seen in are the clubhouse and members enclosure which were always full to capacity. But work prevailed and there was little or no time to spend with friends during the tournament in the member’s after the close of play. My media pass entitled me to eat lunch in the players restaurant where not only was there an incredible choice of delicious food but more often than not opportunities to chat to players, coaches and various people involved in tennis – off the record of course! Often matches went on until quite late but with a free bar in the press centre was where, I usually ended up at the end of the day although time permitting would arrange to meet up with friends after matches in members and that often included my Danish girlfriend’s son Nico who turned up once for an after 5.30 guest badges but had such a great time came back a couple pf more times. By finals day, the hot weather had turned to rain but luckily the finals ended without a rain delay with a surprise unseeded winner!

Next up Wimbledon!

 

 

 

This year’s Aegon sponsored tennis tournament held annually at the Surbiton Tennis Club boasted more top players than ever with the likes of Dustin Brown, John Isner, Heather Watson and Laura Robson all taking part including Elena Pliskova, the eventual ladies winner. From relatively lowly beginnings the tournament has gone from strength to strength and is now a fully fledged mixed challenger event offering prize money to all competing players. According to friends who live locally and who are members of the Surbiton Tennis Club, little has changed since the tournaments’ inception many years ago. Even the familiar club house has changed little and appears just like I remember it when I first visited the  club many years ago. Even the cramped media centre where hot desking is all part of the event’s idiosyncrasies has hardly changed over the years despite it now attracting a lot more national and international tennis journalists than in previous years although most preferred writing copy in the pleasant surroundings of the large cafe at the other end of the grounds. .

As in its early years the tournament always takes place immediately after the first week of French Open although its static dates have changed to fit in with the French Open now being played a week later. More often than not early casualties from the French Open end up playing here even in the early years when there was little or no prize money on offer. Now the tournament’s status has been raised to an official ATP Challenger prize money has increased but the chance to practice on grass prior to Wimbledon still attracts a lot of top players. Unfortunately bad weather played havoc with the scheduling of this year’s event when it rained heavily for a couple of days which meant it took the best part of a couple of  days for the grass to dry out sufficiently for play to re-start. The following warm, sunny days helped but somehow the tournament director managed to catch up with all outstanding matches even though it meant Heather Watson playing two singles and a doubles match in one day but then that’s hazards of grass court tennis.

This year I took the opportunity of popping by to visit old friends living nearby as I hadn’t seen Nora and Ernie for a long time and they were keen to introduce me to their beautiful 14 month old daughter, Oliver who is already happily walking unaided. It was good to spend a couple of hours in their beautiful garden having a coffee in warm sunshine while little Olivia played with Mum and nanny! Fortunately I managed to sneak back to the tennis in time to watch the two semi-final matches and caught up with Sebastian Adams, the former manager of Dukes Meadows, a close friends with Dodi Sela, one of the semifinalists. 

If you want to watch some great tennis at close quarters, Surbiton’s relaxed atmosphere is an ideal venue and still one of my favourite pre-Wimbledon grass court tournaments. 

 

End

 

 

For the past six months I had vaguely thought about buying a new car to replace my aging 14-year-old Honda Civic which although had served me well, was definitely showing its age with over 100,000 miles on the clock. Each time I passed a dealership and had time on my hands I’d pop in to inspect whatever cars on display taking notes of anything that appealed to me. Occasionally the odd salesman would pop out from a glass showrooms, ask a few questions and rather like a cuckoo clock, pop back in again. After endless fruitless visits to forecourts and promises that car details would be emailed to me, nothing materialised. Soon I was tearing my hair out with frustration but what I failed to understand is that the reason I was being ignore was that I was a cash buyer! Soon it became blatantly obvious that dealers were less interested in cash buyers and more interested those looking tor finance! Even my local Wimbledon Honda dealer paid me little attention which is why I ended up trawling various websites including Car Giant. My other cardinal sin was was that I didn’t really know what exactly I was looking and it also became increasingly obvious that car salesman these days are reluctant to spend valuable time on someone like me, a cash buyer. Frustrated I finally resorted to contacting someone who is paid a fee to research the market to find suitable cars that meet clients demands. This also proved disappointingly ineffectual and why I finally ended up visiting the London Motor Show held in Battersea Park! (www.londonmotorshow.com)

I deliberately chose Press day for my research as there are fewer people and had the freedom to wonder from one manufacturer’s stand to another unhindered by swarms of visitors. Several salesmen were happy to chat to me and show me cars but only for a few minutes. It wasn’t until I arrived at the Mazda stand that someone deigned to spend a lot more time explaining to me all about Mazda cars, and even bothered to find out what sort of car interested me and was happy to advice me on suitable cars even though a couple stands away an important presentation was going with famous racing drivers. His explanations left me duly impressed and although we ended up exchanging business cards I didn’t for one minute think he would bother to contact me after the show. How wrong I was. 

To my utter surprise the following Monday I received a phone call from Gordon Parker of T.W White ((www.twwhite.co.uk), who explained that T.W White is a private dealership and suggested coming to their garage in Leatherhead. Quite honestly I felt the trip would probably be a complete waste of time yet as soon as I arrived Gordon greeted me warmly and immediately introduced me to Josh who had been assigned to show me cars that would suit my needs. It was the Mazda 2 automatic that caught my eye and the one we took out for a test drive. Having already explained that I wasn’t interested in white, black, red, grey and fawn colours, the car chosen for our test drive was aptly described crystal dark blue colour and immediately appealed to me. After a few minutes we swapped seats and I took over the driving; in no time I felt at ease driving an automatic although at this stage I still an anti automatic driver but it didn’t take long to discover what a delight this nippy Mazda 2 automatic was to drive.      

Needless-to-say two hours later I became the proud owner of a new Mazda 2 5 door 1.5 sport Nav in Crystal dark blue……! The whole transaction was far less painless than anticipated and within a week drove away my prized new Mazda 2. This all goes to show that given the right person to demonstrate a new car could well result in a perfect match made in haven!

 

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It’s sometimes difficult to comprehend how a country like Turkey can produce so many superb golf courses and this is what I was curious to find out more about.  A recent trip to Antalya, a thriving city south of Istanbul is where I discovered an oasis of well maintained golf courses including several championship courses. All are incredibly well designed and very challenging and a delight to play although sadly on this short trip I only managed to try out a couple of the courses. My previous visits to Turkey were more about sailing and had me flying to Dalaman airport to join a friend’s yacht for a couple of weeks sailing around the Aegean sea but not once did I come across anything remotely looking like a golf course.  

This time I flew Turkish Airlines from Heathrow direct to Istanbul and found the In-flight service above expectations. During our four half hour flight we were served a decent lunch and free drinks (more than British Airways does these days) and even the choice of in-flight entertainment was a good standard especially as I found myself glued to the large ipad size screen attached to the back of the seat in front of me, watching ‘live’ Andy Murray’s second round match at the French Open on the in-flight sport’s channel. This was definitely a first experience for me! 

From Istanbul we caught a connecting flight to Antalya and were met by the hotel’s bus for the one and a half drive to the Xanadu Resort hotel, our home for the next four days. Once checked into my large room with views overlooking the resort’s swimming pool styled on the Ancient City of Perge (which we visited the following day), I meandered down to the buffet dinner where every conceivable dish is served together with ‘unlimited’ wine, mostly local and all part of the hotel’s package. Apart from the fifteen well maintained golf courses, this region is brimming with fascinating and historic culture and the next morning was spent wondering round remains of the Ancient City of Perge built by the Romans thousands of years ago where many of statues and artefacts have been carefully excavated and preserved by internationally trained archaeologists, and can now be found in Antalya’s famous Archaeological Museum which we visited later that afternoon accompanied by our knowledgeable guide Omar. . 

Turkey-2The next day was golf day and spent at the very modern Cornelia golf Hotel adjacent to the Nick Faldo designed par 72 Championship course. The lush fairways and greens belie the very hot weather this area experiences especially during the summer months although the course reflects a typical Nick Faldo design. This time I played with couple from Holland who told me they had been coming here to play golf for the past five years, and always in late May!. I found this course a pleasure to play in spite of its many challenges and difficult to read greens. All courses are well maintained and plenty of lush fairways and greens, and not far away a new grass court tennis stadium has recently opened and where this year its first ATP 250 tournament was hosted prior to the start of Wimbledon. Imagine grass courts in Turkey? Temperatures were generally in the 30’s but seemingly much effort is put  into perfecting and maintaining all courses and why conditions are of such high quality.  Compared to daytime temperatures,evenings were delightfully cool, and eating al fresco an enjoyable experience.  

Turkey-1I have to mention our final dinner at the romantic Alp Pasa restaurant in the old quarter of Antalya. To get there we walked through several narrow passages full of quaint shops and bazaars and dined outside next to the lit outdoor swimming pool while dreamy jazz music played all night in background – what an evening to remember!    

It was one of those warm spring days when I left London early to drive down to Wentworth for the start of Wednesday’s traditional Pro-Am shot-gun event which starts promptly at 8 am.. However, intentions of getting there before the start didn’t quite materialise as anticipated and instead found myself running about an hour late and having to catch up with various groups I had earmarked to follow. This meant heading straight for the lower numbered tee-off times first to watch last year’s champion Chris Wood’s group who started from the 1st hole and were already finishing the 5th when I arrived. In Chris group’s were two Olympic gold medal rowers, Sir Steve Redgrave handicapped 14, and Matthew.Pinsent who plays off a respectable 12 plus Damian Lewis who like Redgrave plays off the same handicap. What I find fascinating was hearing Wood dishing out various pieces of advice on how to tackle awkward lies to his fellow team mates. After following Wood’s for a couple more holes, I meandered over to watch Justin Rose, my other hero since he won an Olympic gold medal in Rio last year. His group consisted of Peter Jones, Brian McFadden and Keith Duffy who between them  boasted a total 29 in handicaps. Justin was definitely the father figure, keeping his eye on shots and advising wherever necessary. It was after the 8th that I finally caught up Tommy Fleetward’s group which included Jodie Kidd, one of the few females taking part in this pro-am while on the next tee was Martin Kaymer with three footballing legends all boasting surprisingly low handicaps, Matt le Tissier, 4,  Tim Sherwood,10 and Teddy Sheringham, 5! 

Needless to say, play was slow…. which indirectly helped me catch up with several more groups and their pro-am guests. The one person I was keen to catch up was Austrian Bernd Wiesberger’s group as golf journalist, Hubertus tho Rahde was part of his group and someone I had met on a press trip to Barcelona a couple of years ago. Hubie invited me to follow him when we ran into one another in the media centre the day before and I promised faithfully I would be there but having arrived late, I first had to locate his group, Eventually we caught up on the 14th as they waited for the group in front to finish putting the 13th. It was only after Hubie teed off (after an interminable wait) that he finally noticed me in the crowd and immediately asked me I’d like a bottle of water. I managed to silently indicate I already had one with me, and at that point he sauntered over to where I was standing outside the robes and to my utter amazement invited me join his elite group (who had amassed a score of 12) inside the robes. “You’re my guest”, he insisted as I protested, saying that although I had a media pass it didn’t really allow me inside the robes.

This was a new and interesting experience being able to watch golf from close quarters and Hubie appeared to enjoy every moment. I was soon introduced to the rest of the group including his caddy, Ian and as we walked down the wide fairways was able to ask Ian a few poignant questions about playing Wentworth. I also watched with increasing fascination as irons were selected and balls struck with incredible accuracy. For a couple of holes Hubie played his best golf whether it was my influence is uncertain to say but clearly he was delighted with his eagle on the 10th par three. By the time we reached the final 5th hole,(the group had started on 6th), although not in contention for any prizes, they were happy with their final score. Everyone shook hands and as I waited to thank Hubie, he pointed to the three gleaming white top of the range BMW’s waiting to chauffeur players back to the clubhouse and invited me to join him in his car. As I sank into the BMW’s comfortable backseat that I realised what a wonderful, fun day I’d had, all thanks to my friend Hubie! .  

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